My dad died on Father’s Day
Kinda sounds like a punch line to a twisted joke. It’s not, though. That’s really the day he died.
I can’t remember the exact day we found out he was dying, but I remember the day exactly. I had called in sick to school, because my dad was, and I had to take him to the hospital to find out how sick.
I helped him out of the car and waited until he got his bearings. I casually linked my arm through his so he didn’t have to ask for help. His pace was painfully slow. I wondered if it was because he was in pain, or because he didn’t want to find out why.
I just wanted him to hurry so we could get all of this over with. I needed to study for my SAT the next morning. There was a party I wanted to go to later, and I needed to go to my friend’s house and grab the jeans she said I could borrow.
I wanted him to hurry so they could start the surgery, so we could find out what was wrong with him…so they could fucking fix it.
I woke up a few hours later, laying on the lobby floor with my head on my study guide. They said it would only take around two hours. It had been almost four. I opened my book back up to the algebra equations, shut it, opened it again, and flipped over to the vocabulary section.
I’d learned a good trick for memorizing vocabulary. You take the word and use it in three different sentences. But the sentences had to be memorable, something funny or bizarre.
Aberration: a state or condition markedly different from the norm
- My dad’s yellow skin is an aberration.
- Sitting in a freezing cold hospital lobby by yourself waiting to hear if your dad is going to die is an aberration.
- A 17-year old girl without a father is an aberration.
This is fantastic. I’m using death as a study tactic…an aberration, to be sure.
The surgeon came up behind me, asking if I was William Breazeale’s daughter. My book slipped out of my hands when I jumped up, and my notes went flying. We both watched in silence as the pages drifted to the ground. I looked up at him and tried to smile. He didn’t smile back.
“The surgery went well. There were no major issues. But we did find cancer in his pancreas and, unfortunately, it has spread to his liver.”
I slammed the door behind me, and his head shot up. He hated it when I slammed the door. “Shit, sorry dad, did I wake you up?” I wasn’t thinking. How are you feeling?”
I cringed every time I asked him that. What the hell was he going to say? “I feel amazing. That last can of Ensure you shot into my veins tasted fantastic and is digesting perfectly. And I’ve had to go to the bathroom for the past two hours, but I’m too weak to stand up. Other than that, I feel great.”
He attempted to smile. “I’m fine. How was school?”
“Fine. I have to go back, it’s only noon. I just came home to check on you”.
“It’s only noon?”
“Yeah. You hungry?”
“Well, were you able to drink some of the juice I bought you?”
“No. I haven’t felt like it.”
“Dad! You have to eat, whether you are hungry or not. You are literally wasting away! Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?”
I stormed into the kitchen and brought back a glass full of juice. He took a small sip, giving me a look that made me take it back and gulp the rest down.
Jesus, Brooke. He already feels horrible and now you’re yelling at him, telling him how terrible he looks.
“Dad? Will you make sure I’m here, I mean…when you go?”
He smirked slightly like he always did when I asked for the impossible. Well, I’ll do my best, but I can’t make any promises.”
“No dad, I’m serious. You have to promise if I’m not here, you won’t leave me until I can get back.”
“Brooke, I can’t promise you’ll be here when I die. But I promise you, I’ll never leave you.”
While the next few weeks dragged on, I acquired a slight obsession with the calendar. Every morning I scrolled across the row of days, then down the columns of weeks. Which day was it going to be?
I flipped to the next page looking for an aberration, I suppose. My eyes landed on the only words on the page.
I laughed out loud. You’ve got to be kidding me. My dad is going to die on Father’s Day.
Of course, I didn’t tell anybody this. How morbid and sad was that? The worst part was that I didn’t know which I felt more, sad or relieved.
I had a date. This was going to end at some point, and it was going to be soon. I would be able to leave the house again without having to find someone to watch him. I could go out with my friends without worrying about him. I wouldn’t have to give him morphine shots or clean up after him when he didn’t make it to the bathroom. And I wouldn’t have to sleep outside his bedroom door, hearing him moan in pain, crying myself to sleep because there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop it.
I wouldn’t have to do any of those things, because on Father’s Day, June 21st, my dad wouldn’t be dying anymore. He would be dead.
I spent that morning with my best friend and his family. I reluctantly agreed to go to church with them, cringing at every metaphor emphasizing the importance of celebrating “our father.”
We were heading to a movie, and I asked if we could stop so I could buy him a Father’s Day card. I’m not sure why. He obviously wasn’t going to read it.
We made it to the ticket booth just before the previews started. I grabbed my ticket, turned to his dad and asked him to take me home.
I closed the front door behind me, making sure not to slam it, then peeked in his room to see if he was still breathing. I plopped down next to him to sign his card, but the pen was out of ink.
I went into the kitchen and started digging through the drawers, then stopped. I thought I’d heard something- a moan or a whisper. I kept digging. The noise wasn’t coming from him. He’d been on a constant stream of morphine and hadn’t made a sound for days. I grabbed a pen, then dropped it and sprinted to his room.
He wasn’t breathing.
“Dad! Don’t you dare leave me. Did you seriously just wait until I left the room! We had a deal! I sat down next to him, studying his face for some sign of anything. Nothing. He was gone.
“How could you do this? I came back for you. I made everyone miss the movie. You were supposed to wait until I came back.
The tears I had been holding in for weeks unleashed. He couldn’t just give me this one thing? He couldn’t just let me say goodbye?
Or god, maybe he was trying to hold on for me. Maybe he was scared, trying to work up the courage to let go, and I’d left him. I grabbed his hand and buried my head in the blankets. My mind was reeling; I had left him alone, and now I was.
My guilt morphed into fear. I couldn’t move. I just sat there, crying, clinging to his hand.
Until I felt it, a gentle squeeze. I looked up and saw a tear making its way down his cheek. I kissed his hand and covered his face with the blanket.
That was 25 years ago. Yes, it was terrible, but it was so long ago. The reality is, I haven’t had a dad longer than I had one.
Now, when I see my friends worrying about how badly they are fucking up their kids, I wonder what issues of mine are directly linked to him. My dad was an amazing father, but not always a great one. He, like all of us, had demons he never quite figured out how to conquer. Whether he was drunk or sober, wealthy or broke, in love or lonely, I just never felt like he ever found happy.
I’m sure watching my dad struggle negatively impacted me in various ways. But I also think it’s what made him, and our relationship, beautiful. I saw his humanity. I saw him keep a smile on his face when things were terrible, or conjure up some sort of silver lining, or scrounge up his last dollar for me and my sister.
Even if he wasn’t happy, he always made sure everyone else was. His life could be a complete mess, but he would do whatever he could to fix everyone else’s. He could be reckless and stubborn, but he was the person you went to when there was nowhere else to go. He was patient and kind and generous. And although he was guarded with his words, we never questioned how much he loved us.
For me, the most tragic part of all of this is the fear that he didn’t live the life he wanted because of me (us). I think he sacrificed so many of his dreams for us. That is the very last thing I would have ever wanted, and it breaks my heart.
Usually, Father’s Day doesn’t phase me. But today, as I sat watching the constant stream of fathers and daughters waiting in line for their coffee, I thought about him. I thought about the past year and how unbearably lonely and painful it has been. But I was still here, and there was no question it was because of the people who have come into my life- no matter how briefly.
It was the books these beautiful souls put in my hands; the words they said that slowly started to heal what we all thought was irreparable damage; the stories they would share and love they would offer without knowing anything about me. These are the things that reminded me of what love feels like, what hope feels like. These are the things that saved me.
I know my dad had a part in orchestrating how and when these people crossed my path. Maybe he knew he was losing me, that I had lost myself, so he immersed himself in my day to day to remind me that he’d kept his promise: he would make sure I made it back, and he would never leave.